Do you want to go see the protests after class?
I stared at my phone screen. That hesitation only lasted for three seconds.
I’m in! I jotted back.
My heart was thudding but a grin was creeping across my face. I’d seen part of the demonstrations before—that would be nothing new. In fact, I’d been one of the many victims of the stagnant traffic caused by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). Four or five times I’d watched them march by, the flow of chanting, whistling and cheering faces framed by the windows of my transport.
On December 5, the King of Thailand’s birthday, I’d witnessed the affects of the protests on the people. When writing about the lack of participation in what I thought would be the hotspot for the national celebration I also gave a breakdown of the political history leading up to the demonstrations today.
But this time… This time there would be no window to obstruct my camera. This time I’d be free to wade right into the mess of things. This time I’d hear, smell and touch the essence of the demonstrations.
I felt like an intergalactic explorer reaching up to unclip my helmet in an alien environment. The readings said I should be able to breathe the air and the radiation levels registered as safe. So I press up the latch. But these reassurances are not enough to stop me from wincing as the exchange of air causes my helmet to hiss.
I’d be exposed. I’d be vulnerable. I could get hurt. In the worst-case scenario I could die (but that wasn’t likely).
Emerging from the stairwell leading out of the underground MRT I stepped into the new world. I could see one of the seven demonstration littering Bangkok in the distance.
Then I scratched my head.
Who knew that the moon had festivals?
That’s what it felt like at the Lat Phrao PDRC demonstration: a festival or concert.
Souvenirs lined the blankets displayed by vendors littered along the sidewalk and street. Boys, girls, men and women strode by with ribbons of Thailand’s national colours proudly tied to their wrists, hats, backpacks, pants and coats. The Thai flag’s stripes fluttered everywhere. Patches of yellow were also strewn throughout the crowd. Every few seconds I’d catch a glimpse of t-shirts advertising Shutdown Bangkok: January 13, 2014.
People crowded around raised platforms where men and women yelled into microphones which obediently amplified the speech through speakers mounted in towering blocks. After every passionate shout there would be a blast of whistles. Whistles are the protest’s trademark, meant to depict whistleblowers revealing government corruption.
And they were loud! They shrieked into my ears drowning out even the following words being fired from the speakers. Whistles were selling like hot cakes. Everyone had one. Not all of those who sauntered by wore the vivid colours of country and king, but everyone, everyone, had whistles.
With so many people coming to join the movement there was of course the problem of parking. But the idea is to block traffic! So with a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone tactic the organizers arranged the participant’s vehicles into a two lane barricade.
The traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see. I shuddered as I snapped the picture. Bangkok traffic is horrendous with three lanes. One lane must be like trying to swim up a waterfall.
The protest site at Lat Phrao wouldn’t be the largest demonstration I’d see that day. Satisfied that we’d wandered through the entire event my friend and I decided to explore another, bigger demonstration: Victory Monument.
We dashed back down in the MRT subway and decided to attempt a line-skipping method we’d just invented.
See in the MRT you need to go to a machine and buy a small token to get into the station and on the subway. Usually this is a quick process, but because the roads were being held hostage by the PDRC most people were using the public transport systems. This included the BTS (sky train), the MRT (subway) and buses (the protestors had promised to allow public transport through their barricades.)
So earlier on the way to Lat Phrao my friend had turned to me as we waited in line to buy a token and said, “hey let’s buy a second token for the trip back.”
I thought it was a good idea so we bought two tokens.
Turns out the tokens are smart enough to tell which station they are assigned to.
On the return trip I attempted to enter and received closed gates. Illegal Entry in red letters on the gate notified me that I wouldn’t be allowed in. I managed to convince the ticket office to swap the tokens but oops, won’t happen again…
Rising from under the streets we switched to above them with the BTS and just like that we were at Victory Monument. No hassle what-so-ever.
Then we caught sight of the monument. It was an island in a sea of humanity.
The normally bustling traffic circle was packed with people.
There were so many people they were seated on every scrap of pavement they could find. If you wanted to travel across you had to find one of the rare, narrow footpaths grudgingly formed through the mass.
Faced with all this, my friend and I—after some hiking, dead ends and back-tracking—managed to travel from the outskirts of the traffic circle, to the monument at its heart.
Normally the area is a major transportation hub. Countless city buses, vans, taxis and motorcycle taxis dump their passengers there.
It had been built in 1941 to commemorate Thailand’s victory in the Thai-Franco war. Thailand annexed parts of Cambodia and Laos as part of it’s victory.
Actually there’s a rather funny story behind the victory. In the war Thailand annexed sections of Cambodia and Laos into its territory. However, it didn’t get to keep them. In 1945 Thailand was forced to give the territories back to France.
Seems Thailand had won the battle, but not the war.
This actually sounds like the current protest. So far they’ve managed to get the Pheu Thai party out of power, but the old Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, still stands in charge of the care-taker government and it’s been predicted that the ejected party will win the snap election set for February 2.
Coincidence or not, the monument would now stand witness over the biggest political shift since 2006 or another lost war.